Why Norway won't destroy Syria's chemical weapons

Norway turned down a request to take the lead in destroying Syria's chemical weapons stock pile today, citing local laws and a lack of technical ability.

Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/AP
Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende addresses a press conference in Olso, Norway, on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. Brende says his country has turned down a US request to receive Syria's chemical weapons for destruction.

Following a review, Norway and the US have come to the conclusion that the Nordic nation should not be responsible for destroying Syria's chemical weapons.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende said today that the country was forced to drop a US request to destroy the chemicals in Norway due to “time constraints” and “technical and legal restrictions.” As part of the UN Security Council resolution agreed to in September, the toxic chemicals are to be transported out of Syria by early January of next year and destroyed by June.

“We don’t have a hydrolysis facility, full capacity for burning the organic waste, nor found an area or port,” Mr. Brende told a news conference. “There is a short time frame here and the Americans have concluded that it is not possible with all these uncertainties."

The US had been hoping Norway would destroy about half of Syria's stockpile of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas, though legal restraints were always a major hurdle.

Mr. Brende said Norway will continue to work with the US to provide economic assistance and humanitarian support to victims of the Syrian conflict. Norway has pledged $140 million (850 million Norwegian krona) to support Syria’s refugees and internally displaced people since the conflict started in 2012.

In addition, Norway will consider how it can contribute weapons inspectors, technical expertise, equipment, and other assistance to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the UN and its close partners.

“The US has other alternatives,” said Brende, without citing which countries might help destroy the weapons. Norwegian broadcaster NRK has previously listed Belgium and Albania and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – US, Russia, China, France, and the UK – as possible destinations for Syria's chemical weapons, citing an internal UN memo. (Editor's note: the original version misstated one of the countries listed.)

Norway’s outgoing center-left government was asked last month by the US to consider the task of destroying the chemical warfare agents in Norway. Conservative Party minister Brende, who took office last week, said the government had relied on a interministerial review and an expert panel to come to its decision. Former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has thrown his support behind Norway's decision.

Brende had hinted Norway could take on the job before today. Earlier this week, however, he spoke of daunting challenges to Norway taking up the task, citing lack of equipment and a cold climate, which limits the amount of Norway’s normally abundant water that could be used for neutralizing the chemicals.

Jørn Siljeholm, a former weapons inspector, criticized Norway’s decision as unbelievable, according to Norwegian news agency NTB. The former secretary general of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature said Norway could have solved the critical timeline issue by storing the materials and utilizing mobile US facilities.

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